The President's Desk: Andrés Spokoiny

Andrés Spokoiny is President & CEO of Jewish Funders Network. Full bio >>

Zionism Is Our Positive Psychology

The concept of “learned helplessness,” coined by psychologist Martin Seligman, became the cornerstone of his groundbreaking “positive psychology” theory that now helps millions overcome depression and anxiety.

Seligman observed laboratory animals that were subjected to random, unavoidable mild electric shocks. Understanding that whatever they did, regardless of how hard they tried to escape, they were going to be shocked, these animals cowered in lethargy and apathy, simply waiting for the next blow, convinced that there was nothing they could do to avoid it.

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Robots at the Seder Table? Training Ourselves to Be in Community Again (Passover 5782)

Tell me honestly: Are you anticipating your Passover seder with excitement or dread? Do you really want to meet all your long-lost relatives, or would you rather have seder with only the three people you like best? In the amusement-to-annoyance scale, where are the obnoxious comments of Uncle Mort going to land? What’s your patience level for those that say the seder is “too long” or the classic “can we eat already?”

If you find yourself less inclined to deploy the patience needed to deal with other people, you are not alone. In fact, you are part of society-wide decline in the ability, opportunity – and desire – to connect with others. Let’s face it: We do miss physical proximity, but we also understand, more keenly than ever, what Jean-Paul Sartre meant in his famous phrase “hell is other people.”

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Being Decisive in the Face of Uncertainty (2022 Presidential Address)

JFN President and CEO Andrés Spokoiny's presidential address at the JFN 2022 International Conference, delivered in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 27, 2022.

The challenge of our time – said Bertrand Russell – is how to be decisive in the face of uncertainty. Now, I’m by temperament at ease with ambivalence and uncertainty. I generally welcome it, even enjoy it, but having lived through the last couple of years, I feel like the guy having a glass of whiskey on the deck of the Titanic saying, “I know I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous!” But jokes aside, the last couple of years took a toll on my psychological wellbeing.

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The Problem with Kings (Purim 5782)

The synagogue of “El Tránsito” in Toledo, Spain is among the oldest and most beautiful in the world, with a sanctuary displaying magnificent Moorish decorations and gorgeous Hebrew inscriptions. Among the verses and invocations, three words are the largest and more ornamented: “HaMelekh Don Pedro” (The King Don Pedro).

Toledo’s Jews were not alone in their obsequiousness to the reigning monarch. Until modern times, being “close to the king” was considered a good strategy for Jews. He granted them privileges and protected them. In most cases, Jews had nowhere else to turn. Gentiles were enmeshed in a broader order of relationships with fixed rights and duties: nobles with their feudal lieges, serfs with the land, tradesmen with guilds, and all Christians with the Church. The king was, therefore, the only one who could protect the Jews from an often-hostile populace.

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How You Can Help Jews (and Others) in Ukraine

Updated on March 30

We at JFN have been horrified to watch the Russian invasion of Ukraine and are deeply concerned about the amount of human suffering it is unleashing, as well as its implications for democracy, Europe, and the entire world.

Below you will find information and resources for providing assistance to the people of Ukraine, with a particular focus on its Jewish population, which is one of the world’s largest Jewish communities. Many, particularly the elderly, were already struggling and isolated even before their country was plunged into war. 

We encourage you to support Passover for Ukraine, a JFN partnership with UJA-Federation of New York, which we announced at the JFN 2022 International Conference. UJA-Federation is matching all JFN member donations up to $1.25 million. Learn more here and donate here.

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Like Trees in the Forest (Tu Bishvat 5782)

One of the quotes that is repeated the most around the holiday of Tu Bishvat (the “New Year of the Trees) is, “Because Man is like a tree in the forest” (Deuteronomy 20:19). Rabbis in every generation have tried to explain that meaning-rich comparison, and many see that quote at the root (so to speak) of Judaism’s approach to stewardship of the Earth.

But can a tree be compared not to an individual person, but an entire people?

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The Miracle of Small Miracles (Chanukah 5782)

Mythical stories in all cultures, which developed mostly before literacy was common, rely on portentous and unusual images to be memorable: Elijah ascending to Heaven in a chariot of fire; the Red Sea splitting for the Israelites; Jesus walking on water. These images violate the apparent order of things, so once you visualize them, your brain will make sure you remember them for good.

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Embracing the Transition (Sukkot 5782)

The novelist Milan Kundera noted that the difference between a path and a highway is that a path is “a strip of ground over which one walks,” whereas a highway “is merely a line that connects one point with another.” A highway, he wrote, has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects and “is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time.”

Kundera wondered whether, in all but disappearing from the modern landscape, paths have also disappeared from the human soul. He lamented that people do not view their lives as a path, but as a highway, “a line that led from one point to another, from one role to the next … Time became a mere obstacle to life, an obstacle that had to be overcome by ever greater speed.”

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Teaming Up with Our Past and Future Selves (Rosh Hashanah 5782)

Who would we be if we had made different choices? If we’d told that secret, left that relationship, written that book?

That’s the question at the heart of “L’Anomalie” (“The Anomaly”), the book by Herve Le Tellier that won France’s prestigious “Prix Goncourt.” A mix of philosophical novel, science fiction, human comedy, and social critique, “L’Anomalie” explores what happens when a flight en route from Paris to New York in March 2021 is caught in a monster storm over the US coast. Flight AF006, a 747, manages to navigate out of the cumulus nimbus and land safely at JFK Airport, but through a bizarre quantic phenomenon, a copy of the plane is created. That second version of Flight AF006, with all its passengers and crew, emerges out of the storm in June, a few months after the “original” plane had landed.

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Looking Beyond the Horizon (Tisha B'Av 5781)

The word “horizon” is tricky. We generally refer to the horizon as an indication of expansiveness, even limitlessness. But etymologically, the word means exactly the opposite. It comes from the Greek word “horizein,” which means “limit.” The horizon is, in fact, the limit of our vision — in Hebrew, as well, where the word for horizon, “ofek,” has the same root as “restrain, constraint, limit.”

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